Shah Bano & Ayodhya

Print edition : December 11, 2015

Shah Bano. The agitation against the Supreme Court's ruling in the Shah Bano case gave the BJP a convenient handle to mount an agitation for a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

FEW of their actions gave the Muslims of India such a bad name as their inept leaders’ agitation for a legislative nullification of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case. Committed secularists, with empathy for Muslims, were saddened by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill, 1986. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer called it a sin against the Quran. However flawed the ruling, the legislation was wrong and harmful.

To the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) it provided a timely and convenient handle—an excuse to mount an agitation for a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Its new president, L.K. Advani, saw in it an opportunity to regain its lost votes. In December 1984 it won only two seats in the Lok Sabha. A myth developed, accepted by almost all, that the lock at the gate of the Babri Masjid was opened as a sop to the Hindus who resented the Bill. The truth is the very opposite of the myth. A decision to open the lock was taken by Indira Gandhi. It was carried out by Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru after her death. It is Muslims who were given the sop of the Bill. It was moved in the Lok Sabha on February 19, 1986. The lock was opened on February 1 on an inspired application made on January 25, 1986.

On April 8, 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) gave a clarion call for the removal of the Babri Masjid. A rath yatra began on September 25. Indira Gandhi’s assassination led to its suspension. It was revived from 25 places on October 23, 1985. A deadline was fixed for Shivaratri on March 8, 1986. The entire episode was reported in detail by a correspondent of high integrity, Neerja Choudhury, on the basis of an authoritative disclosure by “a senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader”, in two articles in The Statesman on April 20 and May 1, 1986. Indira Gandhi’s use of the Hindu card was reported by The New York Times on June 14, 1984. Atal Bihari Vajpayee told its correspondent: “Mrs Gandhi is playing a very dangerous game. The long-term interests of the country are being sacrificed to short-term gains. But encouraging Hindu chauvinism is not going to pay. As the majority community, the Hindus must be above parochial politics.”

“In the Kashmir campaign, Mrs Gandhi and her lieutenants blatantly appealed to the insecurities of the State’s Hindu minority, losing the election but routing the Bharatiya Janata Party. She wanted to take advantage of the Hindu backlash.”

Rajiv Gandhi took over her policy, as Neerja Chaudhury reported: “Mr Rajiv Gandhi had indicated in no uncertain terms that the gates of the Ram Janmabhoomi must open to devotees before Shivaratri on 8 March 1986. The Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Samiti was planning to break open the temple lock that day and a sadhu had vowed to immolate himself if the temple doors were not flung open. A senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader revealed this information confidentially.

“The local administration had been prepared in advance. The court verdict was announced at 4.40 p.m. on 1 February and the rusty lock was actually being broken at 5.19 p.m. A Doordarshan team was posted on the spot to capture for posterity surging crowds entering the shrine.”

Neerja Chaudhury added: “There is evidence of a connection between the opening of the doors of the disputed Ram Janmabbhoomi in Ayodhya and the introduction of the Muslim Women Bill in Parliament, both of which have heightened communal tension in the country. This is evident from the way the Bill came to be framed according to information contained in the report of the general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board which was presented to the Board at its meeting on 23 February 1986. …

“Though they welcomed the bill, Muslim leaders also expressed surprise at the speed with which it was brought in. ‘To be honest, we were not expecting it to come so soon,’ a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board remarked candidly. Its timing indicates that it is not unconnected to the opening of the temple doors which they are extremely unhappy about and suspect was a decision ‘which the government was instrumental in bringing about’.”

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh visited Ayodhya as far back as on December 19, 1985. Rajiv Gandhi invited Muslim leaders for talks on the Bill after the lock issue had been settled—a bunch of ignorant and inept dupes who feasted on the problems that beset the hapless community.

A.G. Noorani